Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala 2011

Near the 5000 foot* halfway point on Haleakala.

Flying into Maui, the first thing you see are the tops of the volcanoes on each of the Hawaiian islands. An awesome sight, they appear as massive domes that stretch high above the clouds. Descending, as the plane passes through the cloud layer, one is struck by how far below the ocean and island still are. These are big hills, and as a cyclist psychologically preparing for a ride to the top of Haleakala, it is an acute signal of what kind of ride it is going to be.

The road to the top of Haleakala rises from sea level to the summit at 10,000 feet*, which is more than 1/3 the prominence of Mount Everest and equates roughly to the altitude gained by mountaineers ascending from Camp I (the fist camp above the Ice Fall and Base Camp) to the summit of the world’s highest peak.

The day of the climb dawned with near-ideal conditions on Saturday. Bike Number 1 spent the night in our apartment on the lovely Rose Compound (where we were guests of unbelievably gracious hosts) and as I ate breakfast, Gianni set about preparing the bike and rider for what lay before us: air in the tires for the bike, estate-grown and roasted espresso for the rider. (Gianni, his VMH, and the Roses have life figured out, by the way.) Final preparations were made, and we headed to the coast where I was to start my warmup by riding into Paia, where the climb officially starts.

I was blissfully unaware of the difficulty that lay before me, and more than a little too optimistic. Altitude has never bothered me and, having done big, long climbs all over Europe and the United States, I understand my limitations well enough to know that gradient is a more serious obstacle for my large frame than is length. When it came to gauging my effort, I figured that since I can comfortably sustain 20 or more kilometers per hour up a 6% grade, I figured that, based on Haleakala’s reported 5.5% average, I could easily do the whole climb at 15kmph, meaning I should have a sub-4 hour ride in my legs. The only unknown, in my naive mind, was what effects a 60 km climb to 10,000 feet would have as the air thinned on my way up. That particular unknown has been answered beyond a shadow of a doubt.

My strategy for the climb was to set at a solid pace at the bottom, fast enough to give myself a cushion for my inevitable slowdown near the top, but not so fast I would fire of the Guns of Navarrone too soon. I set off like a puppy being taken to The Farm, full of confidence and optimism, and with absolutely no idea of how hard Pele was about to bitchslap me. The first quarter of the climb is steady and did nothing but bolster my confidence, with a pace higher than I expected. Things were off to a good start.

In retrospect, I have established the theory that after Hansel and Gretel escaped the Gingerbread House, they made a trip up the volcano, but rather than leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, here they left a trail of wasps along the route, left there to be inhaled by the poor sods who attempt to ride up. The wasps are few and far between at the base, and steadily increase in density as one nears the top. The last 200m of the ride is almost entirely made of Yellow Jackets.

With the completion of the first quarter of the climb comes the turn onto Crater Road, the switchback-laden road that rises all the way to the summit. Most climbs are passes – meaning they approach a saddle or low-point on a ridge in order to cross into an adjacent valley. Crater Road is a sinister beast that goes right for the jugular, leading to the very summit of the mountain. Not terribly steep but very exposed, the wind whips around the side of the mountain from all sides, giving the rider a headwind in almost every direction and steadily sapping any strength from the legs.

By 5,000 feet, after 30 km of climbing and with the ride almost half over, I was completely wasted and the climb became a death march with me staring mostly at my rear axle and being saved only by The Rules emblazoned upon my right thigh. I lost count of my elevation somewhere after 6,000 feet and I retreated into a dark, dark place where unholy thoughts of hatred frolicked, pain tasted bitter on my tongue, and time moved inperceptably. I bargained with Merckx. I bargained with myself. I vowed never to ever do this climb again, if only I could reach the top.

I was rocked back to reality at 8,000 feet when the guns cramped so badly I had to lay on the side of the road for a few minutes to massage some life back into them. The ride from 8,000 to 9,000 feet took a year off my life. At a certain point, I noticed I was making all manner of strange noises that I would prefer I never make again. The last 1,000 feet to the summit, though mentally the easiest, was spent communing with butterflies and cursing everyone’s name I could think of. Cruelly, the last stretch to the very tippy-top is viciously steep and most unwelcome. I came terrifyingly close to falling off for a lack of speed and strength.

Can’t wait to do it again. I’ll go sub-4 hours for sure. Enjoy the film and photos of the ride.

Video: Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala

Photos: Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala

[dmalbum path=”/ Galleries/[email protected]/Haleakala/”]

*The elevations in this article will generally be referred to in feet as this is how the roadsigns along the road are measured and, while it breaks with the convention set forth in Rule #24, these measurements have been forever burned into my brain. 10,000 feet is 3048 meters.

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166 Replies to “Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala 2011”

  1. Marko:
    That is pretty good. The little girl at the end makes it. Hey, are Skoda’s any good?

    That “little” girl must be 5’11” cause Frank is 6’5″…

    On Franks bike position I thought maybe his seat was 1/4″ to 1/2″ low cause his heel looked down.

  2. @Rob
    My comment was in reference to the Jens Skoda commercial that Lee posted the link to. Check it out.

  3. @Marko
    As the owner of a bike that would NOT get invited to the prom, I am comfortable with saying that is one homely bike. Graphics by Magic Marker?

  4. @Lee
    Because of your link, I watched damn-near all the videos of Jens on youtube. He just gets better and better.

    I hope Jens stays in the peloton until he’s 50. What a great attitude, great talent, great humor, and great capacity to take and give The V.

  5. @frank
    thanks for the fb link.
    total respect for your ride.

    i’m now fired up to go and sit on the hotel trainer (sigh)

  6. @Frank
    Re. pic 28/35 above: until your heart and lungs are under such stress that they get pinched between your ribs, you haven’t laid down enough V. You are a pioneer!

  7. Just watched the video, finally. Much respect Frank, that was a bad ass ride. Nice editing on the video too. Gianni made a good director, for sure.

  8. Finally just got to watch the vieo. That was awesome Frank. I didn’t realized the magnatude until you got to the 9000′ mark and it dawned on me that you would still have to “climb up Sunnyside” (our local big climb) at that point. I especially liked the “profesional” hand ups.

  9. I especially liked the “profesional” hand ups.

    I guess the commissaire let it go, seeing all those wasps buzzing around Frank’s mouth.

  10. @Cyclops, @Jeff in PetroMetro

    I especially liked the “profesional” hand ups.

    I was wondering if someone would call us on that. That felt by far the most Pro of the whole thing. Gianni was masterful at driving the right pace, and VMH was always ready with a firm hand and making up reasons to give me stuff. Merckx, that felt good as we got up there.

  11. @Brett
    Sorry mate, but I did curse your name when it started to look like your 4:52 prediction was getting realistic.

    The Cogal sounds like an awesome idea. We’ll organize one here in Seattle, too. We’ll hit all the cobbled sections in town on the Saturday before Flanders. (The climbs/stones are more like Flanders than Roubaix, hence the Flanders choice, not Roubaix.)

  12. @Oli Brooke-White, @Rob
    Re: position, thanks for the feedback. Over the years and years I’ve been riding, I’ve been dropping my bars more and more to get the center of mass down and improve the handling of the bike. I’m pretty flexible and my breathing isn’t impacted by it, but I have recently been thinking of swapping out to a Pro Vibe7 stem because it has a 10 degree rise versus most companies with the 6 which is too high. Not for breathing but because my neck gets tired if I’m in the drops for a few hours at a time (like on the descent). Also considered the Specialized stem that has adjustable angles; but it’s a bit heavy and I don’t like the idea of putting a Specialized product on my bike.

    As for the saddle height, I just dropped my seat last season to combat some knee pain, and it seems pretty happy. I may lift it a touch, though. Thanks.

    As for saddle Hightower

  13. If your bike doesn’t handle well with the ‘bars at the right height perhaps it’s the wrong bike for you?

    People who think their current position is fine despite advice to the contrary are common, and sadly it’s also common to ignore the possibility that even if you are feeling okay you can always improve. You have been riding for years and years but I’ve been riding and successfully fitting people to bikes for over 30 years, just to give my opinion some context.

    The entire bike-fit industry is predicated on the fact that often it’s difficult for a rider to assess themselves as well as an unbiased outsider can, but I know you’ve been down this road many a time so I’ll stop now…

  14. @Oli Brooke-White
    Worth of a post all its own – and a much vexed subject. Last November (with a thought similar to your second paragraph above) I decided to get a bike fit after riding about 8 years on a custom frame. Thought it might be time to check things out given the passage of time and the shortening of hamstrings, etc. Got on a whizzbang set up machine fitted to a computer that worked out in what position I produced the most power, etc etc. The fitter ended up making significant changes including putting my saddle back even further than it already was (ended up 11cm behind the bottom bracket – and I aint tall) and higher, getting a much narrower pedal position (included buying narrower speedplay pedals) and a few other bits and pieces.

    Started getting saddle sores immediately following the fit – thought I might be set too high and reaching so lowered it a touch. No more saddle sore. Persisted with the rest of the set up until around mid-Jan. Put up with sore outsides of my feet, some knee soreness etc., before finally deciding f-ck this, this pozzy might be best for my power output but not for more than 30 mins before discomfort sets in – which surely must have a deleterious effect on my riding. So have made a few changes to my cleat position to get a bit more comfortable and am still messing with my saddle.

    So now I have the bike fit “yips” or “fiddles”. Every bloody ride I am wondering about it – have developed different aches in places I never had before. Am sure my fit was “theoretically correct” – after all I had a big computer screen with graphs and things telling me what my power was doing as each change was made. But bugger me, it has brought on its own set of issues…

  15. @Marcus When Lance went in the wind tunnel to help design the F1 or w/e that stupid TT bike was called, they produced a very aerodynamic bike that was supposed to give him a great power output. After a kajillion dollars and hundreds of hours of spending he went back to the old bike. Liked it better. If you aren’t comfortable enough to enjoy riding your bike I guess it doesn’t matter how many watts you can put out.

    Or maybe it just means he really is a COTHO.

  16. I’d be curious to get a pro bike fit some day. My homecooked fit includes a hard cover copy of The Timber-frame Home, a string with a dog whistle hanging from it, a metric straightedge, my rollers, and my VMH. I’m comfortable and my bike is Rule compliant but I do wonder how different things would be if I got a fit, especially when it comes to cleat position.

    Like @ZachOlson says though I’m happy and enjoy riding.

  17. It’s a tough call – and Oli, please don’t confuse my not agreeing with you with njot considering it very seriously and not appreciating it, and certainly not being willing to get better and better. And absolutely no disrespect to your considerable experience and success fitting people to their bikes.

    Absolutely, we should keep experimenting and always try to get better; I’ve been higher (that’s where I’ve started) but just kept going down to get comfortable. When I go up 1.5 cm to my 6 degree stem, my back starts to hurt and the bike feels less stable. What you say makes sense, but just doesn’t work in practice for me. Like @Marcus and @ZackOlson say, the pro fit doesn’t always yield results. Too many factors of physiology that we just don’t completely understand, I guess. @Gianni’s VMH also did a fit and it leaded to all kinds of ailments. Very tricky stuff.

    For me, the key thing to my comfort is low bars, it’s just how I’m made. When i switched to the 17 degree stem (2cm lower), my speeds when up imidiately, my back pain went away, and the bike cornered better. It was pretty convincing for me.

    But like I said I may go to the Pro stem (can I put a shimano product on my bike???), to go up about a cm. Doesn’t hurt to try. The big question is, do I dare go with the white model or do I stick with the black?

  18. @frank
    I am just happy that tall people generally look crap on bikes – you look a bit like a bike-riding chimp at the circus (Dutch Monkey?). Combine that with a tall person’s discomfort in plane seats and I am about 5 per cent cured of my small man’s syndrome.

    I didn’t say the pro fit doesn’t yield results – just that I didn’t fit the particular fit given to me (probably an indicator of my inflexibility or something like that). My point (which I didn’t actually state) is that bike fitting is a bit of a black art in that there can be a huge amount of disrepancy between the most powerful position and the most efficient over extended periods of riding. Therefore I guess you are more likely to have success with a more experienced “practitioner” who can use some judgement on this point – where is your Melbourne office Oli?

  19. Fair enough Frank, and all very good points. I should remind myself that any bike fit ethos (including my own!) isn’t necessarily going to suit everyone, especially if you are truly aware of what works and what doesn’t (and many people aren’t). Apologies for getting all uppity.

    @Marcus: It sounds like your fit was bogus indeed, showing that even the best computer fit is only as good as its operator. I don’t have access to any such technology so I rely on my eye-ometer, which does have its limitations too at times…

  20. Alright, completey unrelated to the recnt posts on this thread but I was finally able to watch the video today. Super video! Loved it! Also loved the Ennio Morriconesque opening. There is a yearly big ophthalmology conference in Maui each year in January that I think I just might have to attend next year, avec the bike! :)

  21. So I just spent the past ten days at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, watching at least 36 films over that time period, but Frank, that fucking video deserves a Palm D’Or for sheer V.


  22. @frank
    I’ve been wondering about position more (ironically while off the bike, sadly). And I wonder to what extent increased flexibility would lead one to want to alter position. Over the past 18 months, I’ve lengthened my seatpost by ~8cm, and am finding again that it seems a bit low. Is this a product of: 1. my having better flexibility in hips; 2. my preparing to do myself a serious injury; 3. me edging towards 6’0″ in my mid- to late-thirties? Or maybe I’m way off-base.

  23. @Brett
    Oh, you are busted! I’m partial to the fake, joke store cigs. It’s one habit I’ve never picked up thankfully, oh that and heroin.

    Re: Bike Fit, my wife did a Reteul(pronounced retool) fit recently and it was very impressive but as Oli points out, it relies on the experience of the fitter. I believe Reteul compares each person’s data against a large data base of racer’s data. I won’t go into it here but it is cool how accurately this rig makes all the body measurements.

    Personally, I have raised my saddle over the years and recently endeavored to lower my bars/stem to make me more Rule compliant and generally look more ‘core. I’m down to one 1cm spacer under the stem and that’s as far as I go.

  24. @Gianni
    Can one ride the Hana Highway? Or would one want to? I would imagine it would almost be quicker by bike than by car…

  25. @Steampunk
    Yeah, Gianni took us on the highway. It was completely mind-blowing. We didn’t do the whole loop but people do it all the time.

    The riding on Maui was second-to-none. Amazing. And Gianni is the guy to guide you, knows it like the back of his hand.

  26. @frank
    I’ve driven it twice””absolutely beautiful””and wondered if cycling it was a possibility.

  27. Regarding bike fit: Sean Kelly rode a bike his entire career that looked seven sizes too small, but it worked for him. While today’s technology would have corrected some his quirks, I bet he would have gone back to what felt right. There’s a lot to be said about mental and physical comfort in our sport, regardless of what a computer readout says.

    Marcus, I bet if you make small incremental changes toward the recommendations of your bike fitting, the transition would go more smoothly. Bike fitting is still an art, not a science. Probably 80% of a good bike fit is the fitter bringing the changes along slowly so the rider can adapt. Dropping a new template on someone and expecting him to bend right into it is asking a lot.

  28. So, back to my narcissistic rant about needing a serious bike upgrade before heading off to climb Whannahockalugie. Well, I just ran across a 2008 Look 585 Ultra with full Dura Ace 7800, Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels, in my size, at a giant retailer here in town who has depreciated this thing down to my budget because it’s been sitting on their showroom floor for 2 1/2 years. Full retail was just under $7000.00 U.S. I can have it for $2250 US tomorrow. The manager is tired of taking it down and putting it back up so wankers can see how much a $7000 bike weighs. The thing is scratched up a little from all the moving it about in the store, and now it has three-year-old technology compared to all the new BB30 stuff coming out.

    I just might have to do this. Tomorrow. Maybe Tuesday. Word and photos to follow over in The Bikes if I pull the trigger.

  29. Oli, I’d very much like your opinion on the Look 585 Ultra I just blathered about. You’re the reigning shop Velominatus, so I value your input.


  30. Jeff in PetroMetro:
    Oli, I’d very much like your opinion on the Look 585 Ultra I just blathered about. You’re the reigning shop Velominatus, so I value your input.

    Hi Jeff, I am honoured to be considered such, but I’m afraid I don’t have too much experience with the 585. I’ve worked on a couple (Jo Kiesanowski’s for one) and was impressed with the build quality, but I’ve never ridden one. FWIW Jo really rated it, and the word on the street is definitely positive. From past experience with other Looks I can’t imagine you being disappointed at all, especially at that price!

  31. @Oli Brooke-White
    The price SO LOW. This is a massive retailer in town. They don’t just sell bikes. They sell everything. They’re in a huge shopping mall!

    They aren’t considered a racing shop because they cater to the masses. So they have a handful of top end bikes just gathering dust. They keep these bikes toward the front of the bike section locked together with a cable. I guess it’s just marketing for them. But the bikes have been sitting there for a couple of years. Rednecks ask the employees to unlock the bikes, take down the one with the $7000 price tag, and let them pick it up. “Wow, that’s really light!” Then they hand it back to be locked up again.

    It’s an enormous retailer. The guys in the bike section don’t care. They tell me they’ve taken that bike down for someone everyday for 2 1/2 years.

    I was there getting a cheap 24″ Haro mountain bike for my 8-year-old daughter. Otherwise, I’d have never set foot in this place for any reason. So I chat up one of the bike guys, and point out the Looks. He says the manager would probably let me have the 585 for $2500. My jaw hit the floor. Then the manager said he’ll knock and extra 10% off for me because he’s tired of taking the bike down and putting it back up. SHIT! $2250. I can’t get that frame for $2250, nevermind add a Dura Ace 7800 groupo and Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels.

    They’ve got a 2009 Look 595 for a shade over $3000 US, also Dura Ace with Ksyrium wheels, but I’m stretching my budget at $2500 with tax as it is. So the 585 Ultra it shall be.

    Any objections, speak now. That bike will probably be mine by Tuesday unless a fellow Velominatus knows something I don’t but should.

    Oh, and full warranty. I think this retailer adds a bigger warranty on top of the warranty that comes from Look. I’ll get the details on that when I buy the bike. I’m gobsmacked.

  32. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Fun…it’s our little home town festival, but it’s been gaining in stature the past few years. Lots of great foreign films, documentaries, etc. Stuff that won’t ever be seen in the US, a lot of it mind-glowingly good.

    Fucking hell on the riding schedule, tho…I had to get out today for 75k, since the weather was awesome.

    I was on Maui in Sept., and the riding does look epic. North Maui loop, Hana Hwy, even the slog from Kahului to Wailea seems to have pretty good bike paths.

    Maui Cogal… Who’s in?

  33. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    It’s a classic tale of a Velominatus who grudgingly wanders into a superstore only to find the love of his life up in the rafters. DO IT.

    Look has a storied past in cycling; it worked for the Badger, so you’re probably ok. Strackelder has a Look from a few years back and he absolutely loves it to pieces. I think it’s his number 1 or 2 bike. (Out of 32 at the last count…)

    I dont want to speak for Gianni, bu i think he hates French bikes, though, so don’t ask him.

  34. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Jeff: I experienced something similar some time ago. I have the scars to prove it. DO NOTHING!!! DO NOT BUY THE BIKE!! Quickly, though: where do you live and where is this store?

  35. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Brother! Let’s put it this way: Either you buy it or I will come wherever you are and buy it for myself! That is an INCREDIBLE deal on an awesome bike. Buy the bloody thing before someone else does!!! If you do not get it, you’ll regret it for soooo long. Besides, I have found that my wife usually forgives me in a week or two after such a purchase and it is good to sleep with the dog every now and then to remind one of how nice a bed really is!

  36. Gianni :
    @Buck RogersKeep me posted, I can show you some stupid fun rides, much more fun than the Volcano.

    Thanks Gianni! The meeting is the second week of January every year and I really might try to go to it Jan 2012, although I am setting up my April Roubaix trip and the wife might start to wonder why I need my bike for an ophtho meeting.

  37. @sgt
    NICE! I love watching foreign films, esp Renoir, Cocteau, Truffaut and Kurasawa. That’s the other thing besides bikes that I seem to spend too much money on (well, at least according to some). My Criterion Collection is really starting to grow a bit large lately. Man, we all need to meet up for some serious riding and good film viewing in the near future!

  38. Gianni :
    @Buck RogersKeep me posted, I can show you some stupid fun rides, much more fun than the Volcano.

    btw, I do not know about stupid fun but I am always up for a stupid ride it seems (at least accoring to my cycling friends who do not try to delve into The V quite so much!)

  39. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Do it if it’s not done. Finally got out for my first good post ride crash yesterday and traded helpings of V with a dude on a Look. It’s clearly a sign that a fellow Velominatus should jump on this deal.

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